Elsewhere in Elsewhen – Autofiction as Utopia

Binational congress of the WWU Münster and RU Nijmegen 

21st -23rd March 2018, Gnadenthal/Kleve

Languages: German and English


Utopia – 500 years ago, Thomas More thought of it as an island – the island as an alternative to society. In More’s text, it is an ideal world free of conflicts, while Gilles Deleuze in the middle of the twentieth century rather imagines it as a deserted place – because it is separated from the rest of the world. Utopia [gr. οὐ und τόπος, ‘not’, ‘place’], the non-existing place. Michel Foucault, Deleuze’s contemporary, underlines utopia’s relation to the present in his reflections on ‘other spaces’, which consequentially leads him to the concept of ‘heterotopia’. It is this critical potential of utopia, which thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau or Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels used to steer the literary genre of utopian narratives more strongly towards a political direction.  Karl Mannheim briefly summed it as follows: “Utopian is a consciousness, which is not consistent with the surrounding ‘being’”. This marks the beginning of the end of utopia’s temporalization, which started at the beginning of Modernity with novels like Louis-Sebastian Mercier’s ‘The Year 2240’ (1771).  Recent research on utopia has dismissed the concept of an idealized vision of the future and discusses utopia, inter alia, as ‘impulse’, ‘method’ or ‘consciousness’.  But how can such a consciousness which is not consistent with the real be conceptualized? How does it create, present and stage itself? It is here that research on utopia and on autobiography converge.

 By focusing on utopia, the imaginary, the visual and the fantastic come into view, the very characteristics which differentiate the concept of ‘autofiction’ from that of ‘autobiography’. In contrast to ‘autobiography’, which is aligned with authenticity and truthfulness, ‘autofiction’ addresses the fictional aspects of literary self-designs: “Fiction of strictly real events and facts”, that is how Serge Doubrovsky defined the term, which has since been established in the recent debate on autobiography. Furthermore, the constitution of the “I” in a medium seems to be of great significance for the discussion of autobiography as utopia.  Newer studies have coined the term ‘automediality’ for this. With this notion, the focus is drawn to the medial constitution of the self-design which is mostly – but definitely not exclusively – performed in the medium of scripture. Thus it appears that different media are the foundation of autobiographical – or rather autofictional – modes of articulation which each produce distinctly formed self-images. The planned conference therefore enquires primarily  into the utopian aspects of autofictional self-designs and wants to shed light on the imaginary, the fantastic, but also on  the socio-critical aspects of these self-images.

The specific focus of the conference derives from the so-called ‘spatial turn’, a reorientation on spatiality, its perception and conceptualization: Utopia as well as autofiction will be examined from the perspective of their spatiality. This leads to the conference’s aim of investigating the autofictional potential of spatially constituted utopias.

Possible contributions:

  • utopian u-topoi: The autofictional elsewhere as ideology critique
  • Heterotopia and Utopia: Relation to Society or Escapism?
  •  Autobiographical Dystopia or ‚The Principal of Hope‘?
  • Elsewhere/In Another Time : Future and Past as Utopian Spaces
  • Escape attempts to author-/auto-poetics
  • Power of Past: Nostalgia as Utopia

Proposals for contributions in the form of an abstract (max. 300 words) with a short biographical note (including e-mail-address, postal address and institution) and research focus should be mailed until the 1st November 2017 to k.wilhelms@uni-muenster.de and y.delhey@let.ru.nl. For queries or further information, please do not hesitate to contact us. Young scientists are strongly encouraged to apply. We seek to account for the travelling costs.

Concept and organization: Dr. Kerstin Wilhelms (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster), Dr. Yvonne Delhey (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen)